If this "best of SHAMblog" post seems to be coming a tad early, visit your local department or grocery store or CVS and then talk to me: Just as everyone in Retail America was gearing up for Christmas by July 4, or so it seemed, I guarantee that the stores near you already are awash in Valentine's merchandise. (But seriously, guys...if you're looking to book a fancy/romantic restaurant, now's the time to get it done. Unless you want to end up having Valentine's dinner at 2:45.)
Anyway, I thought this post from February 14, 2011, was very much on-point for our customary dialog.
Valentine's Day, of course, can be expected to produce its share of touchy-feely feature stories masquerading as "news." But this kind of thing from my local paper is indefensible in my view, as well as altogether unhelpful to our attempts to restore sanity to a post-Secret society. By (purposely?) confusing/conflating the heart's functional and metaphorical roles, the author, reporter Milton D. Carrero, makes an earnest attempt to force-fit medicine into a more pleasantly romantic framework appropriate to the day.
And while one should not in principle question the validity of emerging medical specialties like neurocardiology—after all, there's nothing wrong with trying to know everything there is to know—giving full standing to these disciplines in their early infancy, when there are still so many question marks, too easily plays into the hands of those selling pseudoscience and New Age-inflected mumbo-jumbo. Which helps explain why, aside from instances where this article deals in speculation and thus is not provably right, there are other respects in which Carrero's quest to over-sentimentalize the heart's role in human affairs goes completely off the rails ... Witness, his entire analysis of beta-blockers' well-known role in quelling performance anxiety. The author states that since beta-blockers work only on the heart, not the brain, there must therefore be some magical way in which a calmed heart reassures an anxious brain. Let's see ... how shall we put this? How 'bout: WRONG. To begin with, his premise is flawed; beta-blockers do indeed exert a direct action on the brain, though some are more capable than others of penetrating the so-called blood-brain barrier. But Carrero, not to be deterred, goes on to give us this whimsical, beta-blocker-induced "conversation" between Mr. Heart and Ms. Brain.
...after realizing that the heartbeat has remained stable and that there are no physical signs of anxiety, the brain accepts the commands from the heart, overruling its need to be anxious.Just to clarify, "Goldstein" is Dr. David S. Goldstein, one of several highly placed sources that Carrero somehow enlists in his cause (and a guy who, I suspect, will be working at NCCAM before long). A related story by Carrero in the same issue, which I was unable to link, again evokes the mythology surrounding the heart's mystical role in human emotions, describing the plight of a woman who nearly died of a "broken heart." Only later in the piece, after some paragraphs of florid prose, does Carrero reveal that in addition to whatever emotional demons the woman was beset with, she was eventually determined to have an apparent leak in her heart that was causing major bleeding into her pericardium.
"The heart is saying no, so I guess I won't be anxious then," said Goldstein.
I'm no cardiologist, but that just may have had something to do with her pain and other symptoms, ya think?